Switzerland’s central bank has revealed losses of £10bn in its gold holdings, after prices for the precious metal plunged 28% last year.The Swiss National Bank (SNB) said the value of its reserves dropped by 15bn francs and as a result would not pay dividends to local ruling cantons – the members of the federal state – or the capital Bern.
The dramatic loss has shown that it is not only small-time investors in gold who have been hit by the metal’s slide from nearly $1,700 (£1,038) an ounce in January to just under $1,200 (£732) before Christmas.
Bullion’s slump in 2013, the biggest annual decline since 1981, was prompted in part because central banks’ quantitative easing failed to stoke inflation and the economy globally strengthened.
The deep Swiss gold loss was offset slightly though gains of 3bn francs (£2bn) on the banks’ foreign currency positions, and another increase of 3bn francs on a stabilisation fund it put in place in 2008 to save Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, from collapse.
As a result SNB said it expected to report a total loss of 9bn (£6bn) in 2013, according to provisional figures.
But since SNB needed to put aside 3bn Swiss francs as a provision for its currency reserves, it said it expected to end up with a total loss of about 12bn francs (£8.1bn) in the red.
“As this loss will be substantially larger than the 5.3bn Swiss francs (£3.6bn) in the distribution reserve, the SNB cannot make a profit distribution,” the bank explained.
Switzerland’s central bank usually hands out dividends to the Swiss confederation and regional cantons.
Last year, SNB reported a 6.9bn franc (£4.66bn) profit and redistributed 2.4bn francs (£1.62bn) of its profit to the Swiss confederation, cantons and other shareholders.
The bank said it would announce its full results on March 7.
Global demand for gold is driven in large part by South and South East Asia, and in particular China.
Chinese buyers have rejoiced at the price drop ahead of the traditional peak purchase period before the lunar new year.